The Florida Department of Law Enforcement last year identified â€œpotential ethical violationsâ€ by Rivera, including that he as a state representative sought to hide a $1 million contract with a Florida gambling company. It also said he used campaign funds to pay for Florida House of Representatives activities already reimbursed by the state. The report, which was sent last July to the Miami Dade state attorneyâ€™s office, was released to the Associated Press on Wednesday.
Although state prosecutors found no criminal violations, Rivera still faces a federal probe. The freshman congressmanâ€™s maiden campaign drew national attention because his heavily Latino district in South Florida was considered one of the few in the nation up for grabs between the two major parties in 2010.
Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office in Miami, declined to comment on the federal case Wednesday.
Rivera, a Republican, called the investigation a fishing expedition that became a wild goose chase.
â€œAs he has always maintained, Congressman Rivera has at all times acted in compliance with both the letter and spirit of Florida and federal campaign finance laws and has timely and properly reported all personal income,â€ Riveraâ€™s campaign said in a statement emailed to the AP.
â€œAny funds raised and spent in relation to Congressman Riveraâ€™s campaigns for the State House, Republican State Executive Committee, or U.S. Congress, were done with the strictest adherence to all applicable legal standards.,â€ the statement continued. â€œAny suggestion to the contrary is completely false.â€
Rivera said that following its July report, â€œFDLE was provided with specific and detailed information refuting all of their false and unfounded allegations against Congressman Rivera.â€ The campaign did not immediately respond to an AP request for any of this information.
Allegations involving Riveraâ€™s campaign finances first surfaced at the close of the 2010 congressional campaign, but they mostly related to earlier state campaigns.
FDLEâ€™s report states that even though Rivera did vote on multiple pieces of legislation directly affecting the company with whom he had a contract, his activities did not violate Floridaâ€™s unlawful compensation law.
â€œHowever, the investigation did identify potential ethical violations based upon Mr. Riveraâ€™s behavior and intent. Mr. Rivera may not have solicited and/or received any pecuniary benefit for acting within his capacity as a public official, but he did take steps to disguise his relationship with a special interest group,â€ the report said.
The report also found more than $65,000 in credit card charges that appeared to be for personal expenses but that were paid for with campaign funds. Those included â€œpet services, dry cleaning, dental care, medical services, entertainment and travel expenses for his girlfriend,â€ the report said.
The separate memo released Wednesday by prosecutors cited other questionable transactions and expenses, including Riveraâ€™s explanation that he needed girlfriend at his side at campaign events.
â€œAs a single man running as a political conservative, it was necessary for him to appear at campaign related events with a female escort,â€ the memo quoted Rivera as saying, continuing that he maintained â€œit was appropriate and permissible to pay for his female companionâ€™s expenses as well, as they were essential to his election campaigns.â€
The FDLE closed its investigation on April 4. The prosecutorsâ€™ memo released Wednesday concluded in some cases that charges could not be brought because the two-year statute of limitations had expired.
Florida Democrats on Wednesday were quick to point out that Rivera was still under investigation by the FBI and IRS.
â€œHeâ€™s still failing to raise money,â€ Florida Democratic Party Spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement. â€œHe still doesnâ€™t have the support of the GOP. Heâ€™s still on the wrong side of the issues that matter to Floridaâ€™s middle class, and weâ€™re still going to win FL-26.â€
Still, Democrats have had a tough time recruiting candidates to run against Rivera this year. A former fire chief-turned-state lawmaker dropped out of the race after the party criticized his fundraising efforts. The current Democratic candidate lives outside the district and has never run for public office before.
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